Searching for Bobby Fischer

Searching for Bobby Fischer is a book written by Fred Waitzkin written in 1988 and turned into a movie in 1993 (screenplay written by Steven Zaillian).  The story is of Fred Waitzkin and his son, who became a chess prodigy.  The movie is based on Josh Waitzkin’s early life.


Searching for Bobby Fischer really begins in 1972 when Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky in the World Chess Championship Match in Reykjavik, Iceland, then disappeared from chess. Many people got interested in chess and picked up the game, even became grandmasters, because of Fischer popularizing the game. PBS (WNET) covered the match, which starred Grandmaster Edmar Mednis, National Master Shelby Lyman, and National Master Bruce Pandolfini, manager of the Manhattan Chess Club (which no longer exists). Fischer died in Icleand on January 17, 2008, at the age of 64.

Joshua (Josh) Waitzkin (pronoucned WAYT-zkin) was born on December 4, 1976 in New York City.

Josh learned how to play chess from his father, Fred Waitzkin (born in 1943), at age 6 in early 1983. He later started playing at the Marshall Chess Club on 10th Street. He later discovered chess players in Washington Square (a few blocks above Greenwich Village) in March of 1983. Washington Square had its chess hustlers such as Vincent (Vinnie) Livermore and Israel (the Sheriff) Zilber, an International Master rated over 2400. Zilber once defeated Tal in the 1952 Latvian Championship. For a time, Grandmaster Roman Dzindzichashvili played chess at Washington Square.

In the spring of 1984, Josh was playing at the National Elementary Chess Championship in Syracuse, New York. He lost in the 7th round. The event was won by Evan Turtel. The primary championship went to Oliver Tai.

In 1984, Josh played in the New York City Primary Championship at the Manhattan chess club. He won that event.

In 1984 Josh began taking lessons from Bruce Pandolfini ($60/hour).

The 1984 Greater New York Open was held at the Bar Point game room. The tournament included Joel Benjamin, Dmitry Gurevich, and Asa Hoffmann.

During the summer of 1984, Josh traveled with his father and Bruce Pandolfini to Moscow for the Karpov-Kasparov match.

The 1985 National Primary Championship was held in Charlotte, North Carolina. Josh was the number-one seeded player. In the final round (round 7) he lost to David Arnett. Arnett and Matt Goldman tied for 1st-2nd, with 6.5 out of 7 points. Arnett and Waitzkin went to Dalton. Dalton captured its first national team title at Charlotte,

In 1985, Fred Waitzkin wrote, "Fathering a Chess Prodigy," for the New York Times.

In the fall of 1985 Josh was transferred to Dalton Primary School in New York. Dalton has won 23 National championships, more than any other school in the country. The Dalton School Chess Academy was National Elementary Chess Champions from 1987 through 1990, 1992, and 1993. They were the Primary Team Champions from 1985 through 1991. They were the National Junior High School Tournament Champions from 1988 through 1990, 1993, and 1994. They were the National High School Tournament Champions in 1995. Their chess instructor was Svetozar Jovanovic.

In September, 1985, Josh first played and was defeated by Jeff Sarwer at the Manhattan Chess Club. In November, Josh returned to the Manhattan Chess Club and beat Jeff in a rematch.

In 1985 Josh was seeded first in the 1985 New York City Primary Championship, held at the Manhattan Chess Club. Morgan Pehme won on tie-breaks over Josh, each scoring 5-1.

Josh Waitzkin and Jeff Sarwer tied for 1st place in the National Primary Championship in May 1986, held in Charlotte at the Quality Inn. Josh took 1st place on tie-breaks. There were complaints about Sarwer participating because he did not attend school. Alex Chang won the Elementary championship.

Jeff Sarwer went on to win the 1986 World Championship Under-10.

Bobby Seltzer won the National Elementary championship, followed by Josh Waitzkin, who took 2nd place. Dalton won the national team championship.

Josh won the National Junior High Championship in 1988 while in the 5th grade.

In 1988 Fred Waitzkin wrote "Searching for Bobby Fischer."

Josh won the National Elementary Championship in 1989.

In 1990, at the age of 13, he earned the title of National Master. His highest rating in 1990 was 2229.

In 1990 he won the Junior High Championship for the second time.

In 1991 he won the Senior High Championship. His highest rating in 1991 was 2301.

In 1991 he won the Cadet Championship (under-16).

In 1992 his rating was 2424.

On April 4, 1992 auditions began for the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer.

In 1993, at the age of 16, he became an International Master, with a rating of 2447.

In 1993 he was the U.S. Junior Co-Champion.

In 1994 he won the Under-21 U.S. Junior Championship and placed 4th in the Under-18 World Championship. His rating was 2492.

Searching for Bobby Fischer was released on August 11, 1993. It made a little over $7 million.   It was given a rating of 7.6 out of 10 by the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).  Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four.

The video/DVD release date was July 11, 2000.

Josh Waitzkin (age 7) was played by Max Pomeranc.

Fred Waitzkin was played by Joe Mantegna.

Bonnie Waitzkin was played by Joan Allen.

Vinnie the chess hustler (Vincent Livermore) was played by Laurence Fishburne.

Bruce Pandolfini was played by Ben Kingsley.

Jonathan Poe (Jeff Sarwer) was played by Michael Nirenberg

Poe's teacher was played by Robert Stephens (Jeff Sarwer's dad)

Kalev Pehme, the nervous chess dad, was played by David Paymer

Morgan Pehme, Josh's best chess friend, was played by Hal Scardino

Tunafish sandwich father was played by William Macy (a bad guy in the book)

the tournament director was played by Dan Hedaya

the school teacher was played by Laura Linney

the fighting parent was played by Anthony Heald

the chess club regular was played by Josh Mostel

the chess club regular #2 was played by Josn Kornbluth

the chess club member was played by Tony Shaloub

Asa Hoffmann was played by Austin Pendleton

the Russian Park player (Israel Zilber) was played by Vasek Simek

the man of many signals at the school was played by Steven Randazzo

Katya Waitzkin, Josh's younger sister, was played by Chelsea Moore

the reporter was played by Tom McGowan

the report #2 was played by Ona Fletcher

the park player was played by Jerry Poe McClinton

the night park player was played by Matt Reines

the Washington Square patzer was played by Vincent Smith

the Washington Square patzer #2 was played by Jerry Rakow

the statistician was played by William Colgate

the journalist was played by Tony DeSantis

the final tournament director (Nationals) was played by R.D. Reid

the park dealer was played by Anthony McGowen

the 82nd ranked girl at the Nationals was played by Katya Waitzkin

Produced by Scott Rudin and William Horberg

Executive producer was Sydney Pollack

Co-producer was David Wisnievitz

music by James Horner

cinematographer by Conrad Hall (died Jan 6, 2003 at the age of 76)

costume design by Julie Weiss

casting by Amy Kaufman

edited by Wayne Wahrman

technical editor was Bruce Pandolfini

special mention to Patrick Lewis and Hanon Russell

Running time was 110 minutes.

Classified PG (mild profanity)

Paramount Pictures (Mirage)

Fishburne identifies the man he is playing speed chess as "grandmaster Shirazi." Kamran Shirazi was "only" an International Master.

Early in the movie a man in a blue jacket with glasses says, "Young Fischer" to Ben Kingsley as they watch Josh play Vinnie. The man who says this is the real Bruce Pandolfini.

Josh's real mother, Bonnie Waitzkin, appears at the beginning of the film as a parent outside the school when Joan Allen (as Bonnie) picks up Max (as Josh). Bonnie has dark hair and is standing right next to Joan.

Bonnie currently teaches chess at Princeton Day School in Princeton, NJ.

In one of the scenes, Josh (Max Pomeranc) plays against Vinnie in the park while his father looks on from the bench next to Vinnie. The dark haired teenager in the black sweatshirt playing chess (he has the White pieces) behind Vinnie is the real Josh Waitzkin.

In the movie Josh Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc) is seen playing in the Nationals tournament with Josh's actual sister, Katya Waitzkin. He defeats her in the first round of the National Championships to "ranked 82nd."

Vinnie's character came from Vincent Livermore, a 34-year old black man and chess hustler who died of AIDS in 1993.

The final position in the movie is the following:

White: Ke6, Re5, Bg5, Ne4, Pf6, Ph4

Black: Kc2, Rc7, Bd8, Nb6, Pa7, Pg7

Black to move.


1...gxf6 2.Bxf6? (2.Nxf6 should draw) 2...Bxf6 3.Nxf6 (3.Kxf6? Nd7+) 3...Rc6+ 4.Kf7 Rxf6+! 5.Kxf6 Nd7 6.Ke6 Nxe5 7.Kxe5 a5 8.h5 a4 9.h6 a3 10.h7 a2 11.h8=Q a1=Q+ and 12...Qxh8 wins the Queen and the game. 0-1

In the real game in 1986, the game was a draw in Sarwer-Waitzkin as all the pieces and pawns were traded, leaving just lone kings. The opening was a King's Indian, Saemisch variation.  The score sheets of the game have been lost.

The Nationals in the movie was filmed at the Hart House at the University of Toronto.

Pal Benko was supposed to be in the movie, but it was cut out.

FIDE Master Asa Hoffmann refused to play himself as the script showed him as a demeaning person. The movie version of Hoffmann is not like the real Asa Hoffmann.

In the movie, Max's mom was a spectator at a baseball game.

The original casting was supposed to have Tom Hanks play the father, Fred Waitzkin.

No actor except Max Pomeranc (born March 21, 1984) could play chess.  At the time, Pomeranc was one of the top 100 chess players in his age group.  Later, Joe Mantegna learned how to play chess.

Cameos by Grandmaster Joel Benjamin, Grandmaster Roman Dzindzihasvili, woman grandmaster Anjelina Belakovskaia, FIDE Master Bruce Pandolfini, Katya Waitzkin, Josh Waitzkin, International Master  Kamran Shirazi, and Max Pomeranc's mom. Cameos cut include Grandmaster Pal Benko and FIDE master Svetozar Jovanovic.

The Bobby Fischer scenes include black and white footage of him at Reykjavik, New York (getting the key to the city from Mayor John Lindsey), on the Dick Cavett show, being interviewed in the park and asked when he took chess seriously (age 7), giving a simultaneous exhibition, and many still pictures of him including on Life magazine and with Jack Collins.

Technical errors include the setting of the chess clock times not accurate, nobody keeping score on a score sheet, too noisy in the tournaments, smoked filled room at the prestigious chess tournament, offering of the draw was improper, never say check in speed chess or any other time, wrong title for Shirazi (International Master not Grandmaster), writing the chess notation, parent lock-out.

Accurate chess terms and scenes include j'adoube, Schliemann Attack, pawn islands, patzer, Fischer scenes and pictures, good advice not to bring the Queen out early, 2-minute blitz chess,

The screenplay was written and directed by Steven Zaillian, based on Fred Waitzkin's autobiographical book. Zaillian won the MTV Movie Award in 1994 as best new filmmaker.

Zaillian wrote the screenplay Awakenings and Schindler's List.

Academy Award Nomination: Best Cinematography - Conrad Hall

British Title: Innocent Moves

At 18 Josh wrote "Attacking Chess."

In 1997 Josh released an instructional video "Chess Starts Here."

Josh was a spokesman for Chessmaster, the largest computer chess program in the world.

Bobby Fischer was interviewed on a radio show in the Philippines, and had the Searching for Bobby Fischer DVD in front of him, watching or had just watched it.  Fischer denounced the movie, claiming that it was part of a “Jewish conspiracy” to use his name and make money off him at the same time.

In February 2003, Hikaru Nakamura (born Dec 9, 1987) broke Bobby Fischer's 1958 record of the youngest American grandmaster ever. He became a GM at the age of 15 years and 58 days. Fischer (born March 9, 1943) became a grandmaster at 15 years, 185 days. Fischer earned his Grandmaster title at the Portoroz Intersonal in September 1958.

Josh Waitzkin is the only person to have won the National Primary, Elementary, Junior High School, High School, U.S. Cadet, and U.S. Junior Closed chess championships in his career.

Trivia Questions about the movie

01. What game is first shown in the movie?

02. What did Fishburne want to trade with Josh when they first met?

03. What did the Russian player in the park advertise for $5.

04. Who was the first person that Josh played chess with?

05. What did Josh want to do when he grew up?

06. What game did Josh compare chess with when he was talking on the phone?

07. What was the city chess club name that Josh joined?

08. What was the title of the Life magazine with Fischer on the cover?

09. How much did Bruce Pandolfini charge for a lecture?

10. How much did Bruce charge for chess lessons?

11. What did Josh offer the player he first played chess with in the club?

12. Where was the prestigious chess tournament held that Fred first visited?

13. How much did Asa Hofmann earn at chess in a year?

14. What was Bruce's final answer to Clue?

15. What was Josh's baseball team called?

16. What did Fred think his son's first rating was?

17. What was Morgan's rating in his first tournament with Josh?

18. What school did Morgan attend?

19. Where was the State primary championship held?

20. Where was the National primary championship held?

21. What did Josh's school teacher compare this "chess thing" with?

22. What was Poe's and Josh's favorite line to say when they had a good move?

23. What age did Jonathan Poe learn chess?

24. What was Josh's nickname used by Bruce and his father?

25. How many moves did it take for Josh to lose in the NY Elementary finals?

26. What opening did Josh use against Vinnie when he returned to the park?

27. What grandmaster was Morgan's father trying to show a game of to his son?

28. What was Josh's secret that he told to Morgan in the end?


Trivia Answers:

01. Backgammon.

02. baseball for the Lewis chess piece (a knight).

03. For $5 a photo or a game with the man who beat Tal in 1953 (true).

04. The Russian chess player in the park advertising a game for $5.

05. Play 2nd base for the New York Yankees.

06. Monopoly.

07. Metropolitan Chess Club (Manhattan Chess Club)

08. The Deadly Gamesman.

09. $30.

10. $60 an hour.

11. Gummy Bears.

12. House of Backgammon (Bar Point).

13. $2,000 a year.

14. Mr Green in the Conservatory with a candlestick (answer was a wrench)

15. The Falcons, who defeated the Eagles.

16. 15 (interpreted as 1500) from reading the Emergency Dial number.

17. Morgan had not broken 1000 yet, making him higher rated than Josh (who

was unrated at the time and ranked 80th).

18. Dalton.

19. Syracuse, New York.

20. Chicago (in reality it was Charlotte; in the film, filmed in Toronto).

21. Pinochle.

22. Trick or Treat.

23. Age 4.

24. Tiger.

25. Lost in 7 moves.

26. Ruy Lopez, Schliemann Attack (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 f5)

27. Capablanca.

28. That Morgan was a much stronger player than Josh was at his age.


The script of the movie is located here: